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How I got My Data Back 2 The Sequel

Another story of Data Recovery - customer testimonial by Zyra, affiliate and satisfied customer of Xytron Data Recovery

In 2008 my business, Zyra Internet, had been running for nearly eight years at the time. It was four years since the first story of How I Got My Data Back (2004), to which this story is the sequel.

It's an Internet business, so as you might guess, there are quite a lot of computers involved. Although it's a prosperous online business it's not exactly a conventional office when you look at the equipment. There are dinner tables with computers stacked up, and on top of the computers are papers and other things. The computers have been expanded electrically without consideration for the whether the disc drives and power supplies will fit in the cases, so what you see is hardware strewn all over the place with cables connecting it all up.

It was on a nice day in April 2008 that my new accountant and his colleague came to visit. I ushered them through into the conservatory and I went to get some cups of tea, but I neglected to mention the gap. I am so accustomed to leaping through the gap behind all the machines, between all the hard disc drives etc and the equipment on the other side, that I didn't mention the hazard that requires considerable care to get through the gap to get to the conservatory.

It was only later, when I was going to put the accounts on screen, that I realised the penguin had disappeared, and that the network was saying various odd things, and something had gone worryingly wrong.

So, whereas some customers of Xytron Data Recovery have had their data recovered after it was lost in the Norwegian Sea, or was struck by lightning, or something else exciting, I must confess that I lost my data in 2008 because I neglected to guide my new accountant and his colleague safely behind all the precarious hardware, and unfortunately one or other of them must have pranged one of the loose power supplies into one of the many loose hard disc drives that had been quite carefully balanced on the wiring looms.

To be fair, I am quite careful with my disc drives. I blow the dust off them every few weeks, especially if there's been a smoky open fire, and I do not allow cups of tea to be passed through the no fly zone of airspace over the drives. I do not allow foil off chocolate bars to be littered around higher than table height lest it conduct and short out any live connectors. Also, I take particular exception to finding mouse footprints in the dust on the disc drives as I consider that is a very bad sign!

Nevertheless, despite all this care and safety, something had gone wrong and it was going to have to be a debugging session later. The business meeting continued regardless, and there was quite a lot to discuss. Afterwards, everyone squeezed past the machines and went away, and I was left to contemplate what was to be done about the repairs.

It's times like this when being entirely calm about it is very important. There is a strategic approach which works, and it is a matter of taking it carefully. It's important not to panic.

I got another gallon jug of tea on the go and started testing the computers methodically. I already had an idea where the problem had started, you know, like when you're wondering who has pranged your car and you're looking at the colour of the paintwork fragments that aren't yours? After some more testing it was scientifically determined that all of the equipment was OK apart from one particular 60 gigabyte IDE drive, the one which had four 2Gb DOS 6.22 partitions on it and the various Linux ext2 partitions up to hde13.

I performed various carefully thought-out drive swaps on the RAID card (which isn't used for RAID on that machine, and is just so that loads of drives can be plugged in at once). Sure enough, there was not a blink out of that drive.

I gave the drive's circuit board a careful scrub with one of the old dry toothbrushes which was lying around amongst the tools and miscellaneous clutter. It didn't fix it, but it did reveal something I thought was odd about the pins on one of the surface mount ICs on the drive.

Well, perhaps it was physical damage to the circuit board? Perhaps the foot of one of the auxiliary power supplies had pranged it? Knowing that I had no facility for performing microsurgery on the electronics, I considered other options. How many hard disc drives are there in the place? Loads! And how many of them are a 60 gigabyte Maxtor? Several, I thought. So, I started a systematic search through the drives that were powered up all over the table, and then the ones that were stacked up in the server, and I considered what other drives there were in the other machines throughout the place. However, in the end, there was surprisingly only ONE other hard disc drive in the entire place that was a Maxtor of the right age to be about right.

It was one of the drives on the server, but on close inspection the drive circuit board looked exactly the same as the failed drive. So now came the scary contemplation of the daring operation of swapping a hard disc drive circuit board. This type of thing is not to be taken lightly, so if you're thinking about doing it, consider these important things: 1. Are you sure you really know what you're doing? 2. Do you have enough confidence in your own abilities such that if it all gets fowled up you'll not blame yourself? 3. Are you willing to risk your data on the procedure? If the answers aren't yes, then my advice is: don't do it. Send the drive to the experts in data recovery, and get a good night's sleep. Still, if you're sure you are going to swap the circuit boards on hard disc drives then it is an important consideration that the drives are the same as each other.

I looked at the two drives, and the circuit boards were identical, well, apart from the three missing pins on one of the surface mount chips, but I had a good theory on that.

I opened up a box of small tools which were exactly right for operating on hard disc drives, and I carefully swapped the boards, making sure everything fitted snugly and the link options were right, and all those things which it's important to remember. It's worth mentioning here that if you have the right tools to be able to undo the little bolts on a hard disc drive, you still have to have the good sense to avoid temptation to open up the actual drive itself. The cavity containing the actual hard disc and all the shiny metal bits is to be kept shut. This is no joke.

The moment of truth. Would the swapped board do the trick? ... No.

Shame, but it doesn't always work.

It was about then that I was taken aback by the shocking discovery that the drive I'd just swapped from was not a 60Gb, and despite the circuit board being apparently identical, the drive was actually a 120Gb. I'm assured by our friends at Xytron that this can happen, so it's not the reality playing up. What happens is that unlike in the old days, hard disc drive manufacturers make the same circuit board design and use it for different sizes of drives in the range but with a few small components missing where appropriate.

It is about at this point where I did the rational thing which was to give up. There is no dishonour in this, as it is not logical to pursue various irrational tactics which have very little hope of any positive outcome. Emotions and voices in the head might tell you to do various things, but really, they don't have the answers, and some of them aren't necessarily accountable.

2008/04/15 So, I reassembled the faulty hard disc drive, and got it ready for sending to Xytron. This required finding the right type of small cardboard box, not just something dignified enough to be suitable for a coffin in which to bury the body of a dear departed hamster, but something which would have enough shockproof quality about it to allow the fragile drive to be put in the post.

Meanwhile, the computer had to be patched up by bringing in a substitute drive, so the business could continue to run. I had a backup of the data from a month ago, so it was possible to put into position a drive with some data that would do for now!

2008/04/16 To the Post Office. There's that moment when the person behind the counter asks "How much is that worth?". Now with data on a hard disc drive the answer has to be "priceless". They're not asking for philosophical reasons on how much is your data worth or just to be nice, but because it's an insurance matter. If they lost it (very unlikely. The Post Office almost never lose things in the post), then would £30 be right or what about £450? Well to be quite honest about it, if it was lost, it wouldn't make much difference whether I got £30 or £450, as neither would compare with the value of the data!

2008/04/18 A message arrived from Xytron Data Recovery to say that the disc drive had arrived, and that the fault was a chip that had blown which was the motor and VCM control.

2008/04/21 A message arrived from Xytron to say that the data was now recovered! From what I can see, the recovery involved considerable technical skill as well as knowledge of the history of hard disc drives through the ages, and a good set of spares.

2008/04/2X Various tickets and things arrived in the post.

2008/04/29 A special delivery item arrived from Xytron, which was a replacement drive containing the rescued data!

2008/05/01 The wizard Xyroth (who is also my hosting company Vivostar) came round for a cup of tea and we set off to Marken (a proper computer shop) to buy a SATA interface and a 1 Terabyte disc drive. As a result, it was verified that the data had been successfully recovered. Not only had the data been recovered, but the partitions were still in the correct format (ext2, fat16, etc), and the file dates were intact.

Summary: A Success Story!


* If you have a data loss problem, and you'd like it to be sorted out, preferably soon, and without it costing too much, (though you have to consider how much your data is worth), you could have it solved by Xytron Data Recovery. That's the company that recovered my data in 2008. Xytron data recoveryI'm well chuffed about it! The point about this is, you could have your data recovered by Xytron, couldn't you? If you're wondering how much this would cost, well the last time I looked it was £195 + vat regardless of the size of the drive.